A Case Study of The Brooks Group
By Dr. Lisa Aldisert,
Organizational culture is a topic that baffles many executives because culture seems like a soft and squishy topic. After all, you don’t go out and buy a how-to manual on creating corporate culture! Although the topic may seem soft, hard, tangible results can ensue when your people are aligned with your culture.
An organizational culture is a set of shared values and beliefs that are disseminated and understood at every level of a company. It’s an easy concept to understand, but not necessarily easy to implement. Everyone should be able to answer the question, “What is important to your company?”
You can’t define and create your organizational culture in a day. It requires reflective thought and discussion, and a careful evaluation of what will work from a practical point of view. A theoretically created definition of culture that isn’t practically viable is doomed to failure.
One way to approach this is to model successful methods that other companies have employed. One such company is The Brooks Group (TBG), a sales training consultancy headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina. TBG is a family-owned business in its second generation, headed by brothers Will Brooks, CEO, and Jeb Brooks, Chief Culture Officer (CCO).
TBG evolved to emphasize culture as integral to its business success. They intentionally decided to create an environment where employees make their own way. Rather than establish rules under the umbrella of “you need to do xyz this way”, they emphasize the behaviors that employees can use that will lead to success. Empowered performance is the essence of their culture.
According to Jeb Brooks, “You don’t hire smart people and tell them what to do; you hire smart people and they tell you what to do.” Breaking it down to the basics, for a strong corporate culture, you need to reinforce “adult to adult” behavior as opposed to the “adult to child” behavior that exists in more traditional command and control environments.
It wasn’t always this way at TBG, in fact, the first generation of the business was more of a rules-based culture with a command and control leadership approach. That leadership style can often set people up for failure by minimizing what they feel empowered to do.
By contrast, the current culture emboldens employees to not only initiate new ideas but to “own” them. One example is TBG’s newly established Sales Performance Research Center. This entity was established to offer primary research that would be of interest to prospective clients.
This positions TBG as a thought leader and engages buyers earlier in the sales cycle. This center was established as a result of employee brainstorming, not something generated from the executive leadership team.
So what does a Chief Culture Officer do? In TBG’s case, the CCO focuses on how they work together as a team, especially their leaders. The leaders come together to discuss team strategies and issues, and how they can make improvements. A central principle is how the leaders can stay focused to make sure their employees work in an environment where they can grow.
TBG’s interview process reinforces this philosophy. They use behavioral interview questions, validated hiring assessments, and engage peers in the process. It’s a long, drawn out process, geared to ensure hiring the right person from the start.
When you have a defined organizational culture, it makes is easier to identify who “fits” in your company. If you have two people with equal skill sets, the one who is the better culture fit is the one who is most likely to succeed.
The culture itself is greater than any one person. At TBG the important behaviors are displayed throughout the office and reinforced at every turn. Importantly, the rules cannot be hidden or selectively applied. Take integrity, for example. If your best employee cheats on an expense report, some companies will turn the other cheek because of how good the person is.
This isn’t the case at TBG. They assume positive intent and will work with the person to change the behavior. If the behavior isn’t changed and the infarctions are repeated, the person will be let go regardless of performance.
Do you need to have a defined corporate culture to be successful? No. But having a solid one creates alignment throughout your organization. When everyone marches to the same beat, people can grow and achieve higher levels of achievement.
What’s the bottom line at TBG? The employees are excited about their work and know that they have new opportunities for personal and professional growth. Turnover is low. Creativity is high. And, by the way, revenues have tripled in the four years since they embraced this philosophy.
Dr. Lisa Aldisert is an NYC-based executive advisor, trend expert, speaker and author. She is president of Pharos Alliance, Inc., an executive advisory firm specializing in strategic planning, organizational and leadership development. Her most recent book is Leadership Reflections.